Earlier this week, Governor Heineman vetoed a bill to provide grants to help with the start-up costs of new school-based health centers. School-based health centers are just what the name implies: a health center housed within a school. It’s a concept that takes the idea of a school nurse and expands it to allow kids regardless of their insurance statues to get more comprehensive care when and where they need it.
Students can be treated for acute illnesses, such as flu, and chronic conditions, including asthma and diabetes. They can also be screened for dental, vision and hearing problems. The centers emphasize prevention and early intervention, which can also mean a more cost-effective use of health care dollars for kids who might otherwise end up in an emergency room.
The Governor’s rationale for the veto was along the lines of something he’s said before. That somehow the two issues — children’s health and education — are in competition for funding, and we can’t afford both.
If our state is to compete in the future, we are going to have to stop seeing education as existing in a vacuum. As the daughter of a teacher, I can tell you that my mom was someone who always knew that kids were more than just what their teacher saw in the classroom. I was with her when she went out of her way to pick up one of her students whose family had lost their house and was living in a motel. I gave her advice on where to turn when one of her students told her they had been raped but refused to talk to the school social worker.
I tell these stories to illustrate a point — that improving the educational success of our children is not solely about what happens between the hours of 8am and 3pm Monday through Friday. It’s about what happens to them before they even reach school age and about what happens to them at home. A kid who is hungry isn’t in the right frame of mind to learn. And a kid who is sick needs to get better before he can fully participate in school.
I don’t say this to imply that schools should meet of all of children’s needs, but there are simple things we can do improve attendance and educational outcomes that are inexpensive and contribute to better outcomes for kids overall.
School-based health centers are a bold and innovative idea that brings health care to kids where they are and makes sure that kids with barriers to health access are able to get it. This is very much an education issue. We’re hopeful that our State Senators will continue to see it that way when they vote on the veto override on this bill next week.